Tag Archives: Camping

Camping vs. glamping: Incident at Site 82

Throwback Thursday: I’m sharing again this post first written two years ago when my Beloved and I were living more-or-less full-time in a 355-square-foot RV. Camping season is upon us, and sometimes even the bad experiences are worth it because they make great stories. Like this one …

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Interested in the differences between camping and glamping? Take this quiz, followed by a cautionary tale.

1. Your food is stored:

  • A. In a cooler on ice.
    B. In a refrigerator with an ice maker.

2. You sleep on a:

  • A. Sleeping bag on the ground.
  • B. Bed. With sheets.

3. Your entertainment includes:

  • A. A 50-inch fire pit and marshmallow sticks.
  • B. A 50-inch flat-screen TV connected to a satellite dish.

4. Your primary tool for tidying up is:

  • A. The plastic bag from Wal-Mart that originally carried your groceries.
  • B. The central vac.

5. Your plumbing system is best described thusly:

  • A. You wash your dishes in a bucket, you take a sponge bath in a bucket and you pee in a bucket.
  • B. You wash your dishes in a sink with a pull-out spray spout, you bathe in a hot-water shower and you pee in a toilet that flushes.

If you answered mostly As, you’re camping. Fun, because who doesn’t like s’mores cooked over a flaming campfire, right? If you answered mostly Bs, you’re glamping. Lucky you.

Of all these elements of a great adventure, the primary determinant that separates the campers from the glampers is the plumbing.

But when the plumbing goes bad, as illustrated by Hollywood to great comic effect by Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and Robin Williams in “RV,” a glamping trip becomes Chinese water torture in a flash. Or a flood. Depending.

Our worst problems on the road have been plumbing problems. My Beloved has replaced the toilet in our RV twice, for example, but nothing compares to the incident at Site 82.

It all began one sunny afternoon with a loud and terrible noise that could be described as a cross between a clunk and a crunch.

I was inside, my Beloved was outside. I ran to the door and leaned out, “What was that?!”

“I don’t know,” my Beloved replied, his eyes wide. “But where is that gushing sound coming from?!”

Lo and behold, a pipe beneath the camper was spurting. And the underbelly of the camper was seriously deformed.

Our first instincts were to sniff the air.

“Doesn’t smell like black water,” I said, a tiny bit relieved.

If you’re not sure what black water is, it’s the stuff in National Lampoon’s “shitter.” No further definition is necessary.

RV plumbing also includes something called “gray water.” This is the tank that contains the rinse water from the shower and sinks. In our RV, our gray water is further separated into “galley water” which comes specifically from the kitchen drain.

A lake of cold soapy water infused with food particles and coffee grounds was quickly forming beneath our camper in Site 82.

After a bit of hand-wringing (me) and crawling through the damp gravel under the camper to scope out the damage (my Beloved), we determined the galley tank had become unmoored and the exit pipe busted.

Plan A: Call a repairman.

We located a RV repairman with “trusty” in his brand name and, wonder of wonders, he answered his cell phone.

But, being the week before Memorial Day weekend, he was not only trusty but also busy. He could pencil us into his schedule in two weeks.

Two weeks?! We were scheduled to leave this campground in three days. And we have non-refundable reservations at a highly-prized campground east of here.

Not only that, the trusty repairman was well-connected, and he said knowingly that RV service centers would probably make us wait eight weeks.

Ohhhhkay, then.

Plan B: Repair it ourselves.

First, my Beloved had to take things apart, which began by eviscerating the underbelly of the camper to expose the plumbing system. After much grunting and groaning and rolling around on the damp gravel while I fetched various tools from various cubby holes (“what’s the difference between a wrench and a socket wrench again?”), he determined the parts required to fix the problem.

And then we went to bed. Exhausted.

The next day, we made not one but two visits to Home Depot. The repairs required the following tools, most we already owned (because my Beloved hoards tools the way I collect shoes) and a few we purchased:

  • Flashlight.
  • Floor jack.
  • Utility knife.
  • Screwdriver. And screws, of course.
  • Sockets and ratchet (“there is no such thing as a socket wrench”).
  • Sawzall (borrowed).
  • Hammer. But not nails.
  • PVC pipe.
  • Zip ties.
  • Ratchet straps.
  • Silicone.
  • Compression union.
  • Washers.
  • Plastic fender washers.
  • Scissors.
  • And, since no job is complete without it, duct tape of the gorilla variety. Because it’s “super strong.”

Also, cardboard. It’s amazing how much easier it is to crawl around beneath a camper when there’s a bed of unfolded cardboard boxes over the gravel.

At the end of Day 2, my Beloved left the underbelly exposed in order to let the silicon in the piping dry and so he could check for leaks.

On the morn of Day 3, no leaks could be found. Yay! So my Beloved commenced in stitching together the camper underbelly like an experienced cosmetic surgeon (and I continued my role as nurse who handed him the correct tools). He even spray-painted the white plastic fender washers black to match the belly skin. To impress the zerk greaser, I guess.

As most disaster stories are told, it’s said “it could have been worse.” This is true of this story, too.

Our gray water tank could have broken three days earlier when we were camping in a place where the ground is optimistically described as “loamy.” Negative Nellies might describe it as spongey. But in any case, when combined with rain, it was the perfect ingredient for making mud. And Mother Nature delivered rain three of the four days we were there.

But even worse, it could have been our black water tank. In telling our story to a fellow camper while cooling off in the pool at the end of Day 2, she related a story of a black water tank explosion that could only be fixed after the work of waste cleaners in haz-mat suits to the tune of $2,400.

Our repairs cost only $67.38.

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Epilogue: We went on our merry glamping way as scheduled after the Incident at Site 82. Since then, we’ve experienced flat tires and broken axle connections while traveling with our trusty RV, but fortunately, the black water flows as it should: Downstream and contained in PVC.

Because cleaning the camper and chili go together like a mop and a bucket

After a day of cleaning refrigerators (yes, two), a toilet and sweeping, vacuuming and mopping all available floors, I could use a nice pot of chili.

You understand, my Beloved and I were winterizing the camper (and yes, there’s one dorm fridge in the “basement” and one in the camper proper), and all the glamour of a year’s worth of camping goes out the window when you’re on your hands and knees trying to poke the vacuum cleaner attachment into the back of the closet. And driving around searching for a place to legally dump the shitter (because we’re not Cousin Eddie).

We also stripped the bed and removed the mattress because, Twister Sister fans, we’re not gonna take the old one anymore!

But that’s behind us now, the camper tucked snugly into its storage barn on the edge of town. It’s October, and it’s that time of year.

And now it’s time to think about supper. And because it’s that time of year, some spicy chili is just the stuff to soothe the savage RV cleaning beasts.

Where do I turn? But to my sister’s recipe which I love for its black-eyed peas. Instead of hamburger, I dug up some leftover steak in the freezer, and for spices, I mined the pantry for two kinds of chili powder, molasses and soy sauce (it’s umami, baby!). Sister shared this recipe on my blog a half dozen years ago now (oh, my gosh, how time flies). And it’s a post worth sharing again…

Beautiful chili is in the eye of the beholder

A good chili recipe is as personal as a particular brand and style of underwear. One size does not fit all.

I recently saw a recipe for “the world’s best” chili. It called for cubed tri-tip steak, brown sugar, cumin and paprika — among other basic ingredients — and that was a good start, but it had no chili powder and no beans! How can that be considered “the world’s best”?

Click here to read more. (You can find my sister’s recipe tucked in the comments.) 

Ready to chuck your life in the ‘burbs? Consider full-time glamping

It’s not everyone’s wish for their retirement, but a lot of Americans dream of touring the country full-time in an RV.

I know, crazy, right? Middle-aged folks spend years working like maniacs in order to buy more couches/paint/600-count sheets for their McMansions. But when they think of retirement, they want to travel instead of spending time mowing their perfectly manicured lawns.

Honestly, living full-time in an RV has a lot of appeal for a person tired of acquiring stuff and interested in cultivating experiences.

pacearrowNow, let me just state for the record: By “RV,” I don’t necessarily mean the 1983 Pace Arrow that my Beloved and I enjoyed for many happy months one winter (click here for what remains my favorite story about one of our Pace Arrow trip). That motor home was a great deal, but it was, well, a little old. And sort of cramped. And very, very harvest gold. I mean, it was pretty dependable for the most part, but then, my Beloved is pretty handy with a wrench, too. When I say “RV” in the context of “full-time RVing,” I mean those modern campers with slide-outs. And flat-screen TVs. And king-sized beds. It’s glamping (glamorous camping), not camping. You get the picture, right?

Full-time living in a modern RV is appealing because it forces you to decide what’s really important to carry with you (probably not those rarely worn evening dresses or those ratty towels you can’t bear to donate or toss). It gives you the freedom to clean only one bathroom. And it gives you the opportunity to foist the responsibility for most dinners on your grill-master mate.

Plus, because the RV has wheels, you can explore a new place every day (or week or month).

IMG_5665IMG_5664Author Anita S. Henehan explores this lifestyle in two books I picked up recently at the RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.: How to Run Away from Home After 50: A True RV Adventure and Tales from the Road: Adventures of Mid-Life Runaways.

Henehan’s books are a bit uneven. She’s got an amazing back story, and her writing has a nice “letters from home” style, but there’s not a lot of “how to” in How to Run Away from Home After 50. Her second book (Tales from the Road) is probably more useful for folks considering the full-time RV lifestyle because the second half is filled with details about all the can’t-miss sites a traveler, well, can’t miss. Interestingly, Henehan managed to write the books and keep her toe in her art business while traveling full-time. Talk about an inspiration!

In any case, Henehan succeeds in portraying full-time RVing as an appealing and doable lifestyle. Makes me wanna to go glamping!

Happy campers might appreciate a little history lesson near Elkhart, Indiana

Next time they’re traveling I-80 in Indiana, camping fans need to make a pit stop at the RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame.

RV.Motor Home Hall of Fame

Yeah, I thought there was nothing to see between Chicago and Toledo either. Wrong! This well-appointed museum dedicated to preserving the history and honoring the pioneers of the recreational vehicle industry is quite interesting. Especially if you’re my Beloved. Who, if you toured the museum with him ,would have given you the opportunity to hear the phrase, “hey, I owned one like that!” at least six times.

The museum is filled with full-sized campers of every size from nearly every year in the history of camping: pop-ups, pull-behinds, coaches, trailers and more including a Model T with a “telescopic apartment” and Mae West’s Chevrolet house car. Museum goers can explore inside most of them.

We laughed our heads off when we came across a 1985 Pace Arrow that looked eerily familiar:

It was a slightly more modern clone of the 1983 Pace Arrow motor home we were using as recently as 2014. We sold that beauty — a classic, apparently — to a neighbor with three kids who’s already ventured to the Black Hills and elsewhere in it. Made to last, that’s for sure.

There is also a hall dedicated to modern RVs and motor homes (if you’re in the market for such things). Admission to the Hall of Fame is $10 each and worth every penny.

The best pot luck recipe ideas

It’s the pot luck time of year, and as I have sojourned lo, these past weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a number of awesome bring-a-dish-to-share meals, several of which included totally delicious smoked ribs and corn on the cob. Can’t go wrong with ribs and corn for a crowd. Armed with this recent experience, I’m here to share three secret recipes:

1. Butter: This is not a recipe, exactly, but a tip. If you agree to bring the cornbread to a gathering, either make it with a lot of butter or bring a lot of butter to spread on it. Butter, like bacon, makes everything better.

2. Speaking of bacon, it’s the secret ingredient in Kathi’s Baked Beans, the recipe for which I wrestled her to the ground tonight (just kidding about the half Nelson, but believe me, it was a trick to get actual measurements). Kathi’s Baked Beans do not require overnight soaking or even stinking your kitchen up with bacon grease. It’s an ingenious recipe for  dressing up canned baked beans to make people think you’ve slaved hours in the kitchen. Here’s the recipe for a small group (double for a block party):


  • 1 28-ounce can of Bush’s Original Baked Beans
  • 1/2 pound hamburger, fried (but don’t drain the fat)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 4.5-ounce package real bacon bits (not that fake soy bacon in a can
    — look for the tear-here packets of bacon you might find in the salad fixings aisle)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup barbecue sauce


  1. Combine all ingredients and warm on the stove top. Serve to hungry picnickers.
  2. Seriously, it’s that easy. There is no Step 2.

3. Almond bark and sprinkles make everything better, especially dessert. A woman brought a pan of Rice Krispie Cake Pops to the block party I attended on the Fourth of July, and I am not kidding you, those pretty little desserts disappeared in 10 minutes flat. I watched her take them into the garage, followed her, and grabbed a pop before all the 5-year-olds discovered them, not because I love Rice Krispie bars but because they looked so darn delicious. Sweet and sticky — yum. And the best part: They’re super easy to make. Make a pan of Rice Krispie bars (I learned recently only to use fresh marshmallows). Cut them into roughly 2-inch squares. Insert cake pop sticks. Dip the tops of the pops into melted almond bark and cake sprinkles. Voilà, you’ll be the pop luck winner!

Goodbye to place

Saying goodbye can be difficult.

“See ya tomorrow” or  even “I’ll catch up with you next week” — those are easy. Big goodbyes, especially the forever goodbyes, those often bring tears. (Did I mention how I wept Sunday watching the end of Six Feet Under? A TV show. That ended 10 years ago!)

I’m thinking of real goodbyes right now (not series finales, gah). I remember the tearful goodbye on the steps of Blakely Hall when my parents left me on a college campus my freshman year. I think I saw them two weeks later (maybe even one week), but that goodbye took courage.

Sometimes saying goodbye to a place is as hard as saying goodbye to a person.

A hotel room, a shopping mall, the drive-thru at Starbucks –those are easy places to leave. We didn’t stay long. We don’t get attached.

But walking through an empty house, leaving a workplace for the last time, disembarking the cruise ship … it makes me think of the last scene on Project Runway when the losing contestant is packing of his sewing kit and waxing nostalgic about his time on the show.

And then the lights go out and the music comes up. [Everything in life has a television metaphor in this post, I guess.]

That’s how I feel today saying goodbye to this place. I’ve been here long enough to witness two full moons. And I’m pretty sure I’ll never be back.

The people here were nice. The weather was great. And the view out the back of our camper was amazing. Every morning, the sun broke over the island across the bay in an unobstructed view. Water lapped the dock as the tide came in and went out. One day, we saw the fin of a dolphin meandering by.

But this place is a long, long way from anywhere else. It’s not the sort of place where you just drop by. And its greatest feature — the fishing — is not a draw for me.

So as I walked the dog in the twilight, I drank in the neat rows of campers, the perfect pavement beneath my doggy’s feet, the big sky overhead. This place has the tranquility that is wrought from its isolation from civilization.

Peace. Quiet. Goodbye.



Off to the supermarket we went to provision ourselves in our new home sweet home. I picked up extra virgin olive oil and yellow mustard and eggs and hamburger. My Beloved stocked up on beer. And fresh flowers.

“Fresh flowers … are like a bundle of sunshine, a gift from nature that glows with good cheer.”

~ Martha Stewart

How-to day

How to clean the air conditioning unit on your 1983 Pace Arrow RV:

  1. Weigh yourself. RV roofs aren’t load bearing, and unless you’re interested in a sun roof, thinner service technicians are preferred.
  2. Pull a picnic table over to the ladder on your RV. Climb up.
  3. While your husband makes small talk with the RV owner next door, remove the screws attaching the cover of air conditioning unit to the roof. Avoid sudden motions that may scare you into losing your balance.
  4. Spray an ungodly amount of Formula 409 into the evaporator coils.
  5. Interrupt husband long enough to throw water hose on to roof. Have him do it again when you miss it the first time. Spray off evaporator coils, carefully avoiding the mud puddles that develop in the area of your knees (and butt).
  6. Replace cover, taking care to tighten screws enough so cover doesn’t fly off into oncoming traffic the next time you take the RV on the road.
  7. Throw empty bottle of Formula 409 and hose off the roof. Carefully climb down.

How to reward yourself after cleaning air conditioning unit on 1983 Pace Arrow RV:

  1. Visit friend with good taste. When she offers you fruity margaritas, accept offer.
  2. Watch carefully as she combines the following in a high-powered blender: 1 can of frozen limeade, 1 pint of raspberries, 1 can of triple sec and tequila, a whole bunch of ice cubes. Blend.
  3. Admire the pretty glasses into which she pours drinks.
  4. Enjoy pretty pink margarita and friend’s good company.

Do not reverse order of air conditioner reconditioning and happy hour.

Without rain, there would be no rainbow

A camping trip can imbue motor home owners with God-like control of the weather.

Plan a camping trip, and the heavens open up. Down comes the rain.

Such were our powers this weekend. Freshly cleaned, wallpapered and generator-repaired, the 1983 Pace Arrow went on its maiden voyage of the season this weekend.

And the landscape was well-hydrated everywhere we went.

Perhaps it’s an inherited trait. When I was growing up, it seemed like it always rained when I went camping with my parents, too.

The old beast performed well despite the soggy conditions. The only exception was the mushy pillows, snagged from the linen closet. Instead of stored, they should have been tossed. We picked up a new, better performing set at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

I must confess, drippy conditions aside, we drive down the road with smug looks on our faces. Our 29-year-old motor home looks like a throwback to the ’80s, but it sleeps well and everything works. As we passed a slick-looking contemporary version, we mused about how much gas we could buy for $200,000.

Gas is nothing at which to scoff, however. We pumped 25.9 gallons into her auxiliary tank and 25.1 gallons into her main tank to the tune of $196.95. As Skipper from “Gilligan’s Island” might say: “Oof!”

When we arrived home, I made several trips in and out of the house, emptying the motor home of dirty laundry, luggage and dog accessories. The hot tub beckoned, so I changed into my swimsuit and made my way to the backyard patio for a soaking.

As I sat in the bubbles and leaned back, I felt a few drops on my face.

It was raining again.

Spring (RV) cleaning

It’s amazing how dirty a 1983 RV can get while in winter storage.

My Beloved tackled the outside of the Pace Arrow today while assigning me the inside.

Here’s my report:

  • Murphy Oil Soap works better than Spic and Span. I used two buckets of each, and I was amazed at how dirty my water got. But the really amazing part was how clean my dirty rag got in the Murphy water.
  • Don’t miss cleaning the gasket on the refrigerator. Gross!
  • Disturbed three huge moths in various levels of hibernation. Triple gross! They’re all dead now.
  • Highly recommend storing all your drawers in sealed Rubbermaid containers. This step prevented mouse turds in the silverware.
  • Vacuuming is easier with the music turned up. And don’t forget the attachments.

Time commitment: Four hours. I earned that glass of red wine with my grilled rib eye.

The motor home is now ready for use.

If we can afford the gas.